Aum figure pleads not guilty after long silence

The Japan Times/February 4, 2003

A senior member of the Aum Shinrikyo cult entered a plea in court Monday after refusing to do so for seven years, saying he is not guilty of murder and attempted murder using deadly nerve gases. Masami Tsuchiya, 38, had refused to enter a plea ever since his trial began at the Tokyo District Court in November 1995.

Prosecutors charge that Tsuchiya was one of the key figures in the cult's production of the sarin and VX gases, and have accused him of involvement in the March 1995 subway gassing attack, which killed 12 people, and a series of other crimes using deadly gases.

During Monday's court session, Tsuchiya admitted to most of the prosecutors' charges concerning his role in the cult's illegal production of PCP, a powerful psychedelic drug.

Tsuchiya also admitted that he produced sarin and VX gases while with the cult, but denied that he colluded with cult founder Shoko Asahara in using the gases for murder or attempted murder.

He said he is doubtful that the sarin gas sprayed on Tokyo subway trains in the 1995 case was produced by him. He also insisted that sarin was not among the gases sprayed by Aum members in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, in June 1994, when seven residents were killed.

The trial has dragged on as Tsuchiya has dismissed his lawyers twice since it began in 1995. He refused to enter a plea or answer questions in court, insisting on speaking only at the trial of Asahara, who is being tried separately in the same court.

In the last session in January, however, he began to speak up and indicated that he would fight prosecutors' charges.

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